Janitors Demand Fair Pay, Protection for Essential Work

Hundreds took to the streets on Tuesday to support essential workers protesting unsafe working conditions and inadequate pay. SEIU Local 105 janitors demand PPE, healthcare, and training in new cleaning equipment to protect both themselves and occupants of the buildings they clean. The protest followed social distancing protocols with participants either standing in a small group outside Republic Plaza or staying in their cars to circle the block. 

Stay-at-home orders have turned life upside for many Denverites, but little changed for some janitors in many of the 800-plus buildings covered by SEIU Local 105. While some members of the 2,400 member bargaining unit are preparing some of Denver’s largest office buildings for reopening, others have been laid-off or had their hours reduced. But as businesses reopen, janitorial cleaning services could make the difference in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Protesters hope that their demands can be addressed when SEIU 105 returns to the bargaining table to renegotiate their master contract with all covered employers. The current master contract, which is set to expire in July, was signed in 2016. Juan Montaña, SEIU’s local property services director, told Denverite that 105 will ask for a one-year extension on the current contract to address concerns related to the pandemic.

Janitors at Tuesday’s protest feel they are not being given the protection or training that they need to do their jobs safely, despite guidelines from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office that state “Workers required to use PPE must be trained.”

SEIU 105 members hope that the contract will reflect the increased risk the job poses to workers and their families. Despite only representing one-third of Denver’s population, Latinos account for over half of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This may be of particular concern for Local 105 members, over 80 percent of whom are Latina according to Montaña. Protesters feel hazard pay, PPE, and better benefits will be necessary to protect themselves and their communities.

Most of the buildings covered in SEIU Local 105’s collective bargaining agreement are over 50,000 square feet. For example, Brookfield Properties Republic Plaza website boasts having offices with 3,500 workers and an estimated 40,000 passersby around the building. The building’s location on “The West Wall Street” means that even during times of lighter foot traffic, the property must be disinfected thoroughly and frequently to lower the risk of spreading the virus.